Skip to content

How To Talk to Americans

Daniel Mark Harrison, a financial journalist and Englishman in New York, describes the 12 "most subtle but important mistakes English people and Europeans in particular make when they come to America. In fact, I think on many levels, these are some of the reasons for break-downs in political and business communications between the USA and the EU."
According to him, a bit more cultural awareness would
help European economies and improve transatlantic relations: "Building our trans-atlantic political and economic alliances to create a power center which is capable of doing bigger and better things is exactly what both Europe and the United States should be striving for."
1. Assume that your typically understated demeanor will be recognized and admired by your American colleagues.
2. Politely respond to the question "how are you doing?" with a brief "fine, thanks" and walk away shyly without engaging in much further dialog.
3. Try to exaggerate an overseas experience for dramatic effect. Or, for that matter, underestimate the intelligence of your American companion.
4. Seize every point an American colleague is saying in a debate by analyzing and deconstructing his/her sentence structure word-by-word and pointing out the flaws in his/her logic
5.  Hold back on sharing fairly intimate/personal stories on a first meeting.
6. Assume that anyone who is on some kind of anti-depressant or who has been on one/several is insane and that you shouldn't talk to them.
7. Assume that every American is pro-war in Iraq.
8. Assume that because wealth is greatly admired and sought after in the United States, your inherited wealth will be similarly admired.
9. Draw parallels between European pre-industrial revolution colonialism and America's post-world war II involvement in world economies and politics.
10. Make assumptions about America or American people based on what you have seen on Hollywood movies.
11. Assume that once you've been to one part of America you know it all.
12. Be afraid to ask for a pay rise.
He explains all of this Do NOT advice in detail in his blog Global Perspective. I disagree with several of his explanations and consider some of his advice obvious or not helpful, but some is quite interesting. Just my personal opinion, of course.

What is your advice? What should Europeans avoid in conversations with Americans? What should Americans avoid in conversations with Europeans?  Not the obvious stuff, but the "hidden" dangers of putting one's foot in it (ins Fettnaepfchen treten).
Or more positively put: What is the best way to impress Americans/Europeans, i.e. give a good first impression? Yeah, I know, tough question and very generalized. It all depends on the situation and the individual. Americans and Europeans have probably more in common than differences. Thus making a good impressing on an American or European is not so different. What do you think? Any tips to share?

Related: The American blogger Scot has some great advice for Germans in his blog USA Erklaert: "Warum Amerikaner (Briten, Kanadier) nicht sagen, was sie meinen."


Global American Discourse on : Philosophical Understanding of Pax Britannica and Pax Americana

Show preview
Frankly speaking, I am a complete layman in philosophy. However, I found it necessary to understand philosophical background of British and American hegemony, which has been the anchor of liberal world order since the 19th century. For philosophical understanding of Pax Britannica and Pax Americana, I recommend “A History of Western Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell. Why? Let me explain it to readers, and comment briefly about this book.


Display comments as Linear | Threaded

Isolationist on :

When forced to talk to someone, anyone, from Old Europe, a task I find to be deeply unpleasant, I always follow the same tactic: no insult goes unanswered. Any Old European insult to the President, the country or to me personally merits both barrels right between the eyes. I am not interested in promoting "understanding" with these people.

Markus on :

"Any Old European insult to the President, the country or to me personally merits both barrels right between the eyes." Isolationist is on to something: The President is not just head of government (like Merkel or Blair), but the head of state (like the Queen). The English don't want criticism of their Queen. Bush is both the Decider and the King. Insulting Bush is Majestätsbeleidigung, which was punishable in Germany as well until the early 20th century.

Markus on :

To improve business conversations: Germans need to smile more incl. fleshing teeth, not just grinning. Americans need to smile less. That will help looking more credible and reliable.

David on :

Insulting Bush would be a good way to impress this American.

Markus on :

LOL. But the status and respect of the office of US president is different from the status of heads of state in Europe. No Presidents Day in Europe.

Pat Patterson on :

The US has only two days set aside to honor its two greatest presidents, Washington and Lincoln(the latter celebrated as President's Day). If the Federal Republic of Germany lasts as long as the USA then I think it too might have exceptional leaders to honor. But since Germany has only had a stable democratic republic for 58 years it has a ways to go before it can match the US's longevity or history.

Don S on :

Adenauer might rate such an honor. Possibly Bismark. No others in modern German history, I think. In modern French history there is De Gaulle, then a gap to #2 (probably Clemenceau). And then a looooong gap to #3 (Mitterand?). Chirac isn't fit to clean De Gaulle's shoes.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

A reader once pointed out that [b]Helmut Kohl received the Medal of Freedom[/b]: [url][/url] Quite an honor for foreign head of state. Not so honorable in the US anymore, I heard. Due to President Bush awarding the medal to Bremer, Tenet and Franks... What do you think?

Pat Patterson on :

There are literally thousands of ways to insult the natives wherever you go in the world. Or to be insulted if you are the native. Simply behaving as a guest in that country, much as you would in someone else's home, will alleviate both the stress of trying not to blunder and the eventual embarassment of that inevitable blunder. Best advice for someone visting or even working in the US is to remember to drive right and look left. And that shorts are the rule not the exception. Even on those who should know better.

2020 on :

In America, 'advice and consent' dominates the political discussion much more than in Europe, thus promoting a conciliatory language. Sharp accusations are rather hidden in 'naive counter questions' than spoken out bluntly. The American will say 'excuse me' a thousand times a day - but basically he thinks he needs a gun. That's what I call Old America. I hardly can imagine European citizens flocking to the U.S.A. and make cheap comments and insults there. Not only that such an assumption would hold a contradiction in the premise, it also would ignore how blunt Americans can be. And even if this was true: It would hardly have any measurable effect on the large scale. Instead, we observe the exchange of opinion in big media and government on both sides of the Atlantic. Had Old America listened to Old Europe, they wouldn't be losing a war now. It is not Europe that needs recommendations what to 'Do NOT'.

Mike on :

Listen to old Europe?! Listen to this old Europe.. Your leaders made the case against war largely based on the insistence that the regime couldn’t pose a threat to anyone because it was contained. Simultaneously these same governments were neck deep in the oil for food scam. Violating on a regular basis the sanctions regime they all swore had Saddam contained. It’s a real jaw dropper to listen to you people self-righteously go on about the correctness of your governments position on the war. When it was your own governments actions in demonstrating the failure of containment that helped convince many that because the lunatic was not contained.. We had no choice but to remove him. And you wonder why many of us are doing a serious rethink of considering you an ally? Please..

JW-Atlantic Review on :

"Simultaneously these same governments were neck deep in the oil for food scam." The German government was not involved in this scam. Some German companies were, but not in a large scale. US companies were involved in this scam as well. This topic is brought up every so often. Please let me refer you to a previous response of mine to another commentator: [u][url=]Oil for Food comment[/url][/u] If you have different information, please post the this information and links to credible sources! Thanks! "Your leaders made the case against war largely based on the insistence that the regime couldn’t pose a threat to anyone because it was contained." Many US politicians and pundits have now reached the same conclusion.

Don S on :

But France was, Joerg. Wasn't it? and France had far more influence with the German Government and people than the US had. That gap remains though it has narrowed a little since Merkel was elected. And yes, quite a few people in hte US are rethinking our options in light of a number of things - including that fact.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

"But France was, Joerg. Wasn't it?" What exactly was France doing? Were French companies more involved in Oil for Food than US companies? Please, present some information. Then we can discuss this issue. Without information and sources, we cannot debate this. Please substantiate your claim that "France had far more influence with the German Government and people than the US had." What is your point anyway? I am very curious what influence France had on the German people. I could really need a paycheck from Paris or some free baguettes or whatever... Though I did not get anything. If you have a nice conspiracy theory to share, then please describe that conspiracy and present some links to credible sources. The same old, unsubstantiated rumors spread by Americans, who need to blame the Iraq disaster on someone else are annoying. "And yes, quite a few people in hte US are rethinking our options in light of a number of things - including that fact." Good for you. BTW: Do you think it is okay that people like Mike put Germany and France in the same box? Treat both countries as the same. Very likely he is even confusing both countries with Russia. How would you feel if I would confuse the US with Mexico? Or treat the US and Mexico as the same? Both are in America. So what's the difference?

2020 on :

Mike, last but not least there was the fact that the cease-fire between Iraq and Kuwait was a bilateral agreement that no other third nation was entitled to put out of order except these two countries. It is unevitable that Iraq has broken the cease fire agreements several times, but it would have been Kuwait's privilege alone to cancel them. All relevant resolutions on Iraq persuant have been based on that bilateral cease fire resolution 687 - Kuwait wasn't even asked, the U.S. simply hijacked Kuwait's sovereignty on that matter. What would you say if Iran attacked Israel with the justification that their cease fire with Syria seems to have expired? Wouldn't you also deny that Iran has the right to do so? But that's exactly what the U.S. did.

Pat Patterson on :

The only place "advise and consent" holds sway is on the floor of the Senate the rest of the time and the rest of us tend to conduct leisurely political discussions at full volumne and vocabulary. And since most of us have a healthy understanding of the difference between reality and fantasy we know that shooting someone for disagreements over a new off-ramp is inappropriate but shooting the burglar is okay. The rest of the time, as my previous comment stressed, is simply to come as a guest, don't put your feet up on the table and leave the TV and political stereotypes at home. Plus I forgot to mention that you can make a right turn on a red light in most of the US.

Shah Alexander on :

I have something to say about this: "9. Draw parallels between European pre-industrial revolution colonialism and America's post-world war II involvement in world economies and politics." This is right. But there are many common aspects between imperialism of post-industrial revolution Europeans and post World War II Americans. Both of them assumed themselves messengers of civilization and enlightenment. Among academics and policymakers, it is common understanding that the liberal world order of Pax Americana inherited fundamental structures and values from Pax Britannica. I agree with leading scholars like Niall Ferguson and Robert Kagan that the American public is too unaware of imperial role of the United States. By the way, are Americans so materialistic as Harrison says?

Pat Patterson on :

There was no bilateral agreement between Iraq and Kuwait other than UN Resolution 687. Kuwait's claim one the return of prisoners and reparations was part of the violations the UN listed in preparation for the 14 demands placed on Iraq. [url][/url]

Pat Patterson on :

Sorry, here's the correct link to UN resolution 687! [url][/url]

ADMIN on :

Please note that by default the comments in this blog are threaded rather than linear, i.e. some of the latest responses to comments are not at the bottom, but in the middle of the thread right behind the comment they respond to. At the top of the comments section you have the option to change the view from threaded to linear (=chronological), which enables you to see the latest comments at the end of the thread.

Add Comment

E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.

Form options